When I moved to Dubai more than a decade ago I didn’t give a thought to a Dubai dress code or even what to wear in Dubai once I was here. I assumed that the work and leisure clothing I possessed would be suitable because it is such a cosmopolitan city.
My clothing was indeed suitable, but what I did not count on was the heat and humidity that made me feel like I had a river of sweat running down my back when I was outside in the first month. Nor did I realise how contrary to the seasons my dressing would be, making layered outfits essential.
It was very easy for me to feel at home amongst women who wore abaya and head covers and men who wear the kandora, because I dress modestly and cover my hair anyway. That was a conscious choice that I made more than twenty years ago, and have never regretted. However, it is not for everyone, and every person should make that choice for their own personal circumstances.
The Dubai dress code provides guidance on how to dress in Dubai and the other emirates, in order to respect the religious values of the people of the UAE and the local culture. The UAE dress code is applicable to all visitors and residents and is mandated by the UAE Federal government.
I have never felt oppressed by the Dubai dress code as I was born into a Muslim family and raised as a Muslim. Consequently I share the same religious values as the people of the UAE. This is not true for many non-Muslims who visit or move here for work and this may result in dissatisfaction with the requirements for modesty in public places.
Dubai dress code
- Everyone is expected to dress modestly, especially in conservative areas or public places like shopping malls.
- Clothing should not be transparent or result in indecent exposure.
- Clothing should not display obscene pictures or language.
- For comfort both genders are recommended to wear loose fitting clothing that covers limbs (shoulders, arms and legs).
- Women are not required to cover their hair or wear traditional or modern Islamic clothing.
- Women visiting a mosque are asked to respect Muslim tradition and required to cover their hair and wear an abaya or long dresses in Dubai. Abayas are often provided at the mosque.
- Any nudity is forbidden. This includes topless sunbathing and wearing swimwear in areas outside of beaches, swimming pools and water parks.
- Visitors are reminded that the local culture is conservative and that UAE citizens dress conservatively and may be offended by inappropriate dressing that do not conform to Islamic values.
Dubai rules for tourists
- Residents and tourists alike are subject to the same dress code. However, caution should be exercised in other emirates as they may be more vigilant in applying the dress code in public places.
- Many of the younger generation feel that the dress code is oppressive to them because it demands modesty.
- What many visitors fail to appreciate is that we are guests in this country, and that by choosing to stay we are obliged to respect the laws, religious values and local culture of the people of the UAE.
FAQ’s about what to wear in Dubai
- What to pack for Dubai?
- What do women wear in Dubai?
- Can you wear shorts in Dubai?
- Can you wear a bikini in Dubai?
- Can men wear shorts in Dubai?
- What to wear in desert safari?
The photos in this article were made possible by my friends from work Ederlyn, Shielibeth and Marites who selflessly allowed me to photograph them to show what real people (as opposed to sponsored influencers) wear in Dubai.
What to wear in Dubai
In Dubai traditional clothing for local ladies is the usually a black abaya and for men it is the kandora. Visitors to UAE are not required to wear the abaya or kandora except when visiting a mosque. The climate and culture dictate the appropriate dress for men and women and it includes the following:
- The abaya, the UAE traditional dress for ladies, has been adopted by women of many nationalities and faiths in Dubai. An abaya is a loose full length full cover coat like garment worn by Muslim women over other clothing when they go out in public. It is usually a plain color and is often embellished with lace, sequins, crystals and pearls and matched with a similarly decorative head cover (also referred to as a shayla or hijab).
- Midi or maxi dresses and skirts, loose fitting trousers and tops in natural fabrics like cotton or linen or are cooler and more breathable than synthetics and will be more comfortable when exposed to the heat and humidity.
- Short and long sleeves are more modest than sleeveless or spaghetti strap tops but also offer a small measure of protection against the summer sun or the frosty air conditioning in most buildings. That is especially true in malls and office buildings where the air conditioning temperatures are frigid in summer and many actually wear a shawl or pashmina to ward off the chill.
- A bolero style jacket or shrug is useful to cover shoulders and arms and can be worn over the above mentioned sleeveless or strappy tops.
- Cotton leggings can be worn under short dresses to cover the legs or with tops and tunics.
- For casual wear capri pants, culottes, pedal pushers and cropped pants are suitable as they cover the thighs and knees.
- Men and women may wear shorts, although they may be cautioned if found wearing hot pants (extremely short shorts) that shows their naked buttocks in public places frequented by families.
Read more: Where to stay in Dubai for all budgets
What not to wear in Dubai
These Dubai dress code wardrobe no-nos should be avoided in public places including on the streets, malls, public parks, markets and souks, supermarkets, cinemas and public areas of hotels. These do not apply inside private residences or hotel rooms.
It is not permissible for Muslim men to look at the uncovered bare skin of un-related women, except for their hands and faces. Unfortunately, there are not many ways to avoid it in public places, hence the dress code guidelines.
Regardless of how you are dressed, verbal or physical harassment in a public place is a criminal offence under the UAE Penal Code, and you are advised to report any unwelcome indecent behavior to the police.
- Swimsuit tops and bottoms are considered swimwear and suitable for the beach, beach parks, beach malls, swimming pool and water parks and are frowned upon elsewhere. A see through sarong or cover up is suitable for the beach or swimming pool. Please don’t go out in public dressed like this as it may cause offence, and applies to both men and women.
- String bikinis and thongs are not appropriate beach wear or for hotel resorts.
- Skin tight clothing is discouraged in public and very uncomfortable in the heat. This includes gym wear, so please change into something suitable before going out in public.
- Wearing shorts in Dubai is allowed, however, hot pants or ultra-short shorts are not appropriate in public. Men should wear shorts that are at least mid-thigh or knee length.
- Sheer and see-through clothing through which underwear can be seen must be avoided.
- Plunging necklines may cause discomfort to other members of the public if they reveal the chest or breasts.
- Crop tops, low cut or cut out dresses that expose the midriff or back are not deemed appropriate in public places frequented by families, but are suitable for nightclubs.
- Ultra short and micro mini skirts or shirt dresses that may accidentally expose the derriere are inappropriate anywhere.
- All of the above must be avoided at places of worship, government ministries and municipal offices as you will be shown away and asked to come back dressed appropriately, if an abaya or kandura is not provided.
- Although it happens infrequently, all malls have their dress code on the entrances and visitors may be asked to change or leave if they are not dressed appropriately.
Where to buy UAE traditional dress in Dubai
When I first moved to Dubai I did not wear the abaya because I did not travel with any on my mum’s advice who said: ‘you will find them every where’. We did not realise how expensive abayas were in the malls and I would never have ventured to a souk in Deira or Bur Dubai by myself.
For months I struggled to find any abayas that were in my price range or that were suitable for my needs. I finally found a reasonably priced abaya shop that sells modern abaya fashion including open abayas. When the abaya shop closed for months due to renovations I transitioned to more contemporary modest women’s clothing that I can also wear on my travels without fear of being thrown under a bus.
You may find abaya shops in Mall of the Emirates, Dubai Mall, Souk al Bahar or Madinat Jumeirah and wonder how anyone can eat or pay rent after buying one. Those are generally very expensive and for the luxury local and tourist market. There are cheaper abayas available in the souks and bazaars.
- Classic World of Abaya – branches of my favorite abaya shop are found in Lulu Hypermarkets malls all over Dubai. They have better quality abayas than the souks and also make affordable bespoke tailored abayas on request.
- Naif Souk – this is one of the favorite places for tourists to shop for souvenirs but they also have a good selection of abaya shops selling cheap ready to wear abayas. The fabric quality may not be as good as the more expensive shops.
- Meena Bazaar – this is one of the favorite places for residents to shop and there are numerous stores selling ready to wear abayas as well as tailors who will make or alter abayas and kaftans for you.
Read more: How to get around in Dubai public transport
What to wear in Dubai for Leisure wear
The women in Dubai are never sloppy so even the casual clothing that they wear for leisure activities is still fun and smart.
What to wear in Dubai to the beach
Two piece bikinis, one piece swimsuits and burkinis are allowed on public beaches, with or without cover-ups. However, thong bottoms that expose the derriere are discouraged. My friends all prefer a cover up over their swimsuits but allowed a few shots without it to show the variety that is seen on the beaches here.
I have seen older women wading into the ocean wearing full length dresses or long pants and tunics to preserve their modesty since they may not have access to other swimwear.
What to wear in Dubai for Breakfast or Brunch
Dubai brunches are legendary but are much less formal than they were ten years ago. Comfort is queen especially when looser waistlines are required 🙂
What to wear in Dubai for work
Many Dubai companies have a fairly relaxed smart casual work attire, although staff may be required to be more formal when attending outside meetings, seminars or workshops. In our company even the senior executives only wear jackets and ties to meetings.
Read more: Pros and Cons of Expat life in Dubai
What to wear in Dubai on Ladies night or a night out
Ladies night is one of the most popular cheap and free things to do in Dubai and is an opportunity for the ladies to get out and have some fun.
- Most cafes, restaurants and bars that have ladies night promotional offers have a dress code of smart casual / semi-formal.
- A few places insist on heels so double check with your chosen venue.
- Most ladies get dressed up and show off some bling or skin.
What to wear in Dubai on a Desert safari
Desert safaris start out around 3pm when it is still quite hot and lasts into the evening, with many ending after 9pm.
- Casual trousers, tights or capri pants and long sleeve t-shirts or tunics will protect your limbs from the sun and sand. Save the dreamy dresses for your instagram shoots because they will get in the way during sandboarding, dune buggy rides or camel rides.
- A shawl or scarf is essential for the outdoor time on the dunes while sandboarding and will prevent sand getting into nose and eyes and if the breeze picks up.
- Closed shoes or tennis shoes / trainers are preferable to sandals and easier to walk on the soft dune sand. The sand will get into everything and is extremely hot during the warmer months.
- A sunhat and sunglasses are advisable and ensure skin and eye protection against harsh sunlight.
- The desert evenings can be chilly even in summer, and it is advisable to take a light jacket or shawl.
The reality is that this country has a majority of expats, including men who have not seen their families for a year or two. They may be inclined to stare at semi-naked women wearing revealing tops, shorts or short dresses that show a lot of skin. I never know whether it is out of shock at seeing so much skin or due to carnal desires.
I’m old and have never been subject to it here and never realised the extent of the staring until my cousin visited with his teenage daughters. The girls wore shorts and sleeveless or strappy tops, the same thing they wear in Cape Town during summer. Wherever we went I noticed the stares and lingering glances of strange men. I must confess I felt particularly protective of the girls and was highly irritated, even telling a few of the young men to lower their gaze!
The most important consideration for visitors to the UAE is to maintain modesty and respect for the religious and cultural values of the land and it’s people in speech, actions and dress. Always wear layers, so that you can be comfortable whether you are outside enjoying the heat or inside a cold air conditioned building.
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